Specious Species, No. 8 Edited by Joe Donohoe, 204 pgs.

Jun 21, 2018

Apocalypse. That’s a word that always draws attention. And in the case of volume 8 of Joe Donohoe’s literary journal series, it is one of the twin themes permeating the course of the book. Specifically, this issue is centered around the topics of islands and apocalypse. At first it seems like these concepts may be a little disparate, but Donohoe pushes the two concepts into a remarkably cohesive whole by using his piece “Hiroshima Mon Amour” to do a deep dive on the history of Japan, eventually leading to the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Beginning the piece as a travelogue of a trip made to Japan in 2016, Donohoe utilizes great economy by shifting into a historical primer of Japan from its start as a collection as of warring factions under an imperial court all the way up to the Shōwa period, which corresponds to the reign  of Emperor Hirohito in World War II. Another complementary narrative thread is a condensed history of the atomic bomb, starting with the discoveries of Niels Bohr. Particular attention is paid to the life of Robert Oppenheimer, who was at once both a learned, progressive humanist and the shepherd of one of the most destructive projects in the history of humankind.

The Japanese subject continues later on in another piece in which Donohoe makes a digest examining the lives and works of six key twentieth century Japanese authors. I admittedly am only familiar with Haruki Murakami, but the figure I found most fascinating—if somewhat scary—is the author of the Sea of Fertility tetralogy, Yukio Mishima. Beginning life as a somewhat sickly and effete child, Mishima eventually became a prolific and intensely masterful hard right writer, athlete, and possibly gay man who was obsessed with a return to a militaristic Japan based on the tenets of the samurai code of bushido. Eventually, Mishima took his life in 1970 by seppuku during a bizarrely orchestrated coup attempt by him and some compatriots.

Aside from the Japanese pieces at the heart of the issue, there is also another fascinating travelogue of Donohoe’s 2015 trip to Greece and specifically the island of Patmos, where St. John the Divine was said to have dictated the Book of Revelation. Eric Wilcox contributes a good piece about visiting the Anasazi cliff dwellings of Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico. Even though I grew up in New Mexico, I have never been to these sites but now feel like I’m obligated to soon. As a good complement to the recent Razorcake, there is also an entertaining interview with Dave Dictor of MDC. Surprisingly, the interview was conducted in May 2016 before Trump won office, so it would be interesting to see how different the tone would have been just seven months later. There are several other short pieces throughout, but the aforementioned sections already make this another really worthwhile read from Donohoe. –Adrian Salas (Specious Species, 3345 20th St., SF, CA, 94110)